TAMPA — Like U2 without Bono, or maybe a feistier Coldplay sans Chris Martin, Texas band Explosions in the Sky make mondo anthems that soothe then crash then break your heart, all without any vocals.
If that sounds boring, Tuesday's sold-out Ritz Ybor crowd will tell you otherwise. That is, when they eventually shake from their blissful stupors and vacant stares, the kind of pinwheel eyes caused by 90 minutes of thunderstorm lullabies.
Explosions in the Sky is best known for their relatively softer instrumental Your Hand in Mind, which has been used in myriad films, most notably football drama Friday Night Lights. That movie spun off into a TV show, which also featured the quartet on its soundtrack. The band didn't play Your Hand in Mine during their local stop, but to be totally honest, I wasn't quite sure they left it out until I saw a setlist.
From Postcard From 1952 (a pensive cut on new album Take Care, Take Care, Take Care) to violent thrashing finale The Moon Is Down, the band blended almost every 10-minute song into the next, and it wasn't always clear when one romantic sweeper ended and another bittersweet tune began. At one point I asked a fan for a song title. "I don't know, man," he said. "I'm just here to listen."
And how. Led by three guitarists — Mark Smith, Michael James and Munaf Rayani — with all manner of effect pedals at their feet, Explosions usually followed a certain template, starting with three guitar lines: a wistful melody, a prickly riff and then a full punk-like strum. With Chris Hrasky pounding out complex rhythms, the soundscape was tremendous, cacophony and cinematic grandeur in unison.
They are an unlikely success, and yet the funny thing is, there's actually a current movement of young Texas post-rock instrumental bands. The equally bombastic This Will Destroy You recently had their biggest victory when their shoegazer The Mighty Rio Grande was used to gorgeous effect in Brad Pitt's baseball flick Moneyball.
There's also a correlation with the success of Grammy-winning folk-popper Bon Iver, whose gauzy ballads and massive success speaks to his audience's need for music that moves them. Could today's rock and pop be so void of emotion and intelligence that bands, and their fans, clamor for the gush of the '70s?
By the end of the Explosions in the Sky show, the collective crowd of 1,000-plus stood still, with only the slightest bemused nod of all those heads. When one of the guitars cut through the storm with a sliver of a sonic rainbow, the applause was sudden and ecstatic, a feel-good burst. And isn't that something? In the '90s, young music fans wanted grungey anger. Now, perhaps, they just want a hug.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.